After months of "training" (by which I mean randomly running a 5K loop around my neighborhood in an attempt to teach myself how to run), I finally entered my first race yesterday morning. Thankfully, my dad (Tom Ha!!) is an experienced runner, and agreed to join me.
We woke up early, headed over to Greider Park, pinned on our numbers, and waited with about 75 other runners at the start line.
This is about the time I started to get nervous. Not only was I a first time racer, I had also been sick most of the week, taking two days off of work and not running at all. In fact, my last training run had been a lackluster treadmill session in Boston last weekend. In other words: I was definitely not at my best.
Still, I had come too far not to at least give it a shot. And so, there I was, surrounded by a group of more experienced, more fit, and more prepared runners. As Scott so eloquently summarized, "It's cool to see you do something you're not good at."
And we're off! As the pack of us left Greider Park and headed into the adjoining neighborhood, I experienced my first (and only) adrenaline rush of the race. Although I took my dad's advice and started at a slow, sustainable pace, I'm sure it was a bit faster than my normal training pace. It just felt so cool to be running within the group -- like a pack of wild horses, or those blue-faced Mel Gibson followers in Braveheart, before the disemboweling. Wheee!
But my joy was short lived, as the path cut back into the park and took us down a hill and through a half mile of long, deep grass. Ooof. And then up a really steep hill. Double ooof. By the time we were back on flat, stable ground, I was already winded and was just coming up on Mile 1.
I stuck it out, relying heavily on my familiar iPod playlist to carry me to the midpoint water station... where I encountered another hill. A quick glance at my heart rate monitor told me I was pushing 190, and I felt it. So I made the decision to walk the hill. It sucked. Not the least of which because the experienced older runner my dad had pointed out at the start line, who had been just ahead of me the entire time, did not walk. She chugged up the hill and I lost her for the rest of the race.
Fortunately, I made a new friend at the water station -- the woman who had been following me. "That last hill killed me," she said, and I nodded my agreement while throwing my plastic cup over my shoulder.
As I started my slow jog again, I realized that I was really and truly alone. Where once I could see a long row of runners snaking along the path, now it was just me. Me and the woman behind me and whoever was behind her. It was up to me to find and follow the road markers and get myself to the finish line.
Almost. As I turned the final corner, I saw my dad jogging back toward me. "This is the last hill," he shouted. "Jog it in!" And so I did. I made it up the last hill, and finished strong.
Okay, so maybe "strong" is the wrong word. I finished in 37:07, which is not great. But I felt great! My mom and dad and Scott and the dog were all waiting at the finish line, and as one of the volunteers ripped off the bottom of my bib number and taped it to the scoreboard, I felt like I had really accomplished something.
I stood on the sidelines and clapped as the remaining runners made their way in. First was the woman I'd met at the water station, but about a dozen others tricked in after her. Holy crap, I wasn't last!
After visiting the food tent for water and bananas, I pulled up the data file from my heart rate monitor. To give you some perspective, allow me to share some previous data.
Here's what my numbers used to look like when I first got my heart rate monitor and actually paid attention to the alarms when I exceed my "target zone."
Here are my numbers during a normal training run, now that I no longer pay attention to the alarms.
And here are my numbers from the race.
I'm chalking this up to a combination of race adrenaline, a week of sickness/no training runs, and the fact that the course had a number of hills (my usual training course is entirely flat). And damn if I didn't feel it for the rest of the day. It started with a weird, wheezy cough that lasted until I took a hot shower. (My dad informed me that this is normal when you really exert your lungs.) And I had some noticeable hip flexor pain later in the day, which doesn't usually happen when I do my training runs, and is still bothering me today.
So, I'm giving myself a rest day today, but tomorrow it's back into my sneakers and out on the road. I'm already planning for my next race. You guys, my 55-year-old father beat me yesterday by 9 whole minutes! This cannot stand.